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St. Francis Prep pupils raise funds for Haiti victims

When St. Francis Preparatory School senior Solange Beckles, of Jamaica, walks down her school’s hallways these days, she is bombarded with students’ offers to donate to relief efforts in Haiti.

“People were throwing money into the buckets,” Beckles said of the containers being used to collect donations. “Kids I’ve never seen before asked when they can give me money. Parents are giving hundreds of dollars.”

Several students from the Fresh Meadows school who have family in Haiti, including Beckles, have spearheaded efforts to raise money for the impoverished Caribbean nation that was hit with a magnitude 7.0 earthquake Jan. 12. The earthquake killed as many as 200,000 people, according to Haitian government officials, and demolished entire sections of the capital, Port-au-Prince, and neighboring areas.

French Club President Beckles and club members Emir Fils-Aime and Daniel Bloncourt, St. Francis seniors who have relatives in Haiti, said they hope to raise $10,000 for Catholic Relief Services’ aid efforts.

“The night the earthquake happened, Daniel and I said we have to do something,” said Fils-Aime, of Rosedale, whose aunt’s house was destroyed in the disaster. “I called Solange that night, and the next day we discussed what we were going to do.”

The students immediately began collecting money in buckets now placed around the school and they will be raising funds at a Feb. 5 “dress down day,” during which students are allowed to wear casual clothes not typically worn at St. Francis. The money, the students hope, will go toward rebuilding a nation that they or their family members know well.

Fils-Aime has for years participated in medical mission trips to Haiti every summer with the Gaskov-Clerge Foundation, and his mother, a Haitian-American doctor, will be traveling to the island nation at the end of January to help with relief efforts.

“This was already an economically and politically affected place, so for this to happen to Haiti is really devastating,” Fils-Aime said.

Haiti, a country slightly larger in size than Maryland, is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere and one of the most underdeveloped countries in the world, according to data from the U.S. government.

Rosedale resident Bloncourt, whose father grew up with his 17 siblings in Haiti and whose grandmother’s cousin died in the quake, said the students also made a video about the disaster to show in St. Francis classrooms. Bloncourt and the other French club members will soon create another film that will document how their peers can help Haitians.

“We said we as students can definitely help out,” Bloncourt said.

A family member of Beckles, her grandmother’s nephew, is still missing in Haiti. She is worried about her grandmother, who has been watching CNN “non-stop,” and the students said they hope the media continues to focus on the country beyond the initial devastation.

Students said should individuals outside the school community want to donate to their fund-raising efforts, they can make checks out to St. Francis Prep and write “Haiti relief” in the memo section. Checks may be delivered or mailed to the school.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 174.

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